O come all ye faithless - join the Christians

July 27, 2007

Student wine societies should be open to teetotallers and choral societies must welcome non-singers, an independent adjudicator has ruled, writes Melanie Newman.

Ruling on a dispute between the Students' Guild at Exeter University and the university's Evangelical Christian Union (ECU), Mark Shaw QC criticised the ECU for restricting membership and leadership to Christians.

The Guild suspended the ECU's privileges earlier this year after ruling that its exclusion of non-Christians breached the guild's equal opportunities policy. In an adjudication, Mr Shaw said that the Guild was entitled to insist that those who were simply interested in Christianity must be allowed to join, and even lead, the ECU.

"The same approach should apply to all guild societies," he said. "The Welsh society should open to Scottish members, the wine society should be open to teetotal members and the choral society should be open to non-singing members."

Mr Shaw said the guild's policy was a "laudable, important and uncontroversial objective" and found the ECU's complaint "without merit".

Ben Martin, the Christian student at the centre of the row, rejected Mr Shaw's verdict as "unbalanced and selective" and said that he intends to challenge the guild's decision in court through a judicial review.

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